Thursday, March 16, 2017

Guest Post // Danielle Hines

Hello everyone! My name is Danielle ~ Liz and I are old writing friends who experienced some of our first Nanowrimos together, and one of my favorite things is getting together with her to book shop and talk writing. Liz (in her usual manner of awesomeness) has allowed me a guest post on her blog! Hope you enjoy! 

The Hero’s Journey
A brief overview of a classic structure, and thoughts on the planning vs. pantsing dilemma. 

The Hero’s journey is a narrative pattern originated by Joseph Campbell. It is born from the Monomyth theory which states that all classic stories carry the same basic traits and formulas when broken down systematically.

Now, as a fiction writer myself, this certainly catches my eye. You mean there’s a formula that I can follow that will magically produce a work of classic literature? Sign me up! Alas and alack, writing is rarely this straight-forward and simple (so few things are). 

That being said, this theory and the studying of it does have its merits for a writer. For one, the close study of other stories is a fantastic idea. It is my firm opinion that reading is the greatest apprenticeship available to us as writers. Secondly, if you are a planner, it can be nice to have a few guidelines that you can turn to when you get stuck. Thirdly… has this ever happened to anyone? You’ve been plugging along on your manuscript, then horror of horrors! About forty-thousand words in, you have no idea what to write next. And you have no idea how to figure it out.

Well, this just might help.

The Hero’s Journey follows the Hero (protagonist) through twelve stages that shape the story. I will be using masculine pronouns in the descriptions for simplicity, but don’t freak out! A hero can just as easily be a woman as it can be a man. 

The 12 stages:

1) THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero is unveiled to the audience in their own world and environment. Often they are introduced in such a way that we can automatically sympathize with them, and thus our attention has been won for this story. Also, the hero usually has tension in his life causing him to wish to pull away from his norm.

2) THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something happens that changes things, either external or internal, and the hero must face the beginnings of change. 

3) REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero dreads this plunge into the unknown and tries to turn back, however short-lived this turning back may be. Optionally, a friend or other character can express this dread of the dangers that now lie before the hero.

4) MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero meets a wise traveler who imparts training, equipment, or advice that will aid the journey.

5) CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. This, the end of Act 1, is when the hero fully commits to leaving his Ordinary World and plunging into the Unknown World (mental or physical) which contains unknown rules, codes, and dangers. 

6) TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and begins to accumulate allies and enemies in the Unknown World.

7) APPROACH. The hero and his new allies prepare for the central challenge in the Unknown World.

8) THE BELLY OF THE WHALE. This point comes towards the middle of the story, and in it the hero confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. From the moment of death, new life must spring. 

9) THE REWARD. The hero wins the treasure won by facing death. The treasure can be something physical (a healing elixir) or mental (the key piece of knowledge that will end world hunger) There may be celebration, but there is still danger of losing the treasure again.

10) THE ROAD BACK. This is about the three-quarter mark in the book, and in it, the hero is driven to finish the adventure, leaving the Unknown World and bringing the treasure back home. There may be a chase scene or reminder of the state of the homeland that signals the immediacy of the adventure’s outcome.

11) THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of his return. He is cleansed by a last sacrifice (another moment of death and rebirth) this time to a higher scale. The results of winning this final trial are that the tension that the hero felt in the beginning are, at last, resolved.

12) RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero then returns home or continues his journey. He now carries some element of the treasure that has the power to transform his known world just as the hero himself has been transformed.

Got all that? I know, it’s a lot to take in. Here is an example to help you apply all this. (Okay, let’s be honest, this part is mostly for my own nerdy enjoyment.) A classic story converted into a Hero’s Journey:

Frodo’s Hero’s Journey (for The Fellowship of the Ring):

1) THE ORDINARY WORLD: The shire and Bilbo’s birthday party.

2) THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: The ring is bequeathed to Frodo and Gandalf presents him with the need to get the ring out of the Shire.

3) REFUSAL OF THE CALL: Gandalf and Samwise express concern over Frodo’s quest.

4) MEETING WITH THE MENTOR: This could be meeting Aragorn at the tavern (since he provides advice and aid) though Gandalf is also a primary mentor.

5) CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: Travelling to Rivendell, Weathertop is a signature “unknown world” experience.

6) TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES: The forming of the fellowship!

7) APPROACH: Entering the Mines of Moria.

8) THE BELLY OF THE WHALE: Gandalf’s death.

9) THE REWARD: Their escape from the Mines, Galadriel’s gifts, and Frodo’s newfound determination to do whatever must be done to save middle earth.

10) THE ROAD BACK: Traveling with the fellowship from Lothlorien to Amon Hen.

11) THE RESSURECTION: Frodo faces Boromir over the ring.

12) RETURN WITH THE ELIXER: Frodo leaves the fellowship with Samwise. He now carries more skills and knowledge than at the start of his tale, and he continues his ultimate quest of saving Middle Earth.

If you haven’t read or watched The Lord of the Rings, now you have homework!

This presentation only scratches the surface of everything involved with the Hero’s Journey. Archetypes are explored, the stages are mixed and matched to demonstrate other structures available, and much more. For more info on and application of the hero’s journey, I would recommend Google and “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler. 

Lastly, a few quick thoughts on planning and pantsing. (For those of you who might be new to the game, “pantsing” is sort of a shortened version of “flying by the seat of your pants.” Put more simply, pantsing = not planning.) 

To plan or not to plan, that is the question. I’ve heard a lot of compelling arguments for each of these schools of thought. On the one hand, if you don’t plan, your story can end up a meandering and chaotic mess. Then again, most first drafts end up this way anyways. On the other hand, if you do plan, everything you type can end up stiff and predictable. Then again, refer to my notes on the dreaded first draft.

So what’s the answer? 

The answer to this is not simple (seeing a trend?). It really depends on your own unique writing style, and I think most writers use a mix of both. Some writers plunge ahead with blind abandon on their first draft, then start reshaping things during the editing process. Others begin with the kernel of the idea, then plot as they go, once the themes of the story and the overall shape begin to emerge. Whatever you choose, always remember that writing is rewriting and your story is worth it.

I hope this post has been informative and (perhaps) even a little entertaining. A gigantic thank you to the lovely word-slayer Liz Brooks for the honor of guest posting on her fantastic blog. Happy writing, coffee beans!

Was this post helpful? What are your experiences with planning and pantsing? Share in the comments below!

Also, here’s a link to my blog. If you happen to live in Maine and enjoy a good adventure of your own, this might be for you: Adventures Beneath Katahdin Skies


  1. This was such a great post! And very helpful. I've actually never heard of the Hero's Journey before. Thank you for sharing! :)

  2. I've known about the Hero's Journey for years. It's a great structure! Thanks for sharing. ^ ^